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Strategic planning’s role in helping nonprofit senior living providers rebound

In times of uncertainty, strategic planning plays a key role in setting your organization back on the path to recovery and growth. But how do you make the process impactful and actionable?
Senior couple moving into senior housing community, talking with a sales rep at a table and laughing

Despite headlines of rising occupancy rates across the country, the struggle from the last few years of crisis has lingered for many nonprofit senior living providers. For those whose census is lagging behind the market, especially in markets that have largely recovered, strategic planning will play a key role in setting your organization back on the path to recovery and future growth.

Any organization can “do” strategic planning — but those that excel at this process use a method focusing discussion on critical recovery and growth priorities in a process that is thoughtful, bold, and inspiring.

Though simplified, the following strategic planning method is the most effective approach to creating a business plan that supports your recovery and growth, ready for implementation.

When should a strategic plan be made or revised?

Our dynamic industry is rapidly changing at a pace that has moved strategic plans from a three- to five-year plan to a one- to three-year plan.

Because of this, your strategic plan needs to be a living and breathing strategy that can be implemented in smaller periods of time, and when needed, adjusted frequently. This doesn’t mean the entire strategy changes; it may just require adjustments to a few key priorities. Ultimately, your strategic plan needs to be dynamic enough to adjust as major shifts happen in the industry and the economy.

Any strategic plan made in 2020 (or earlier) is essentially irrelevant today. So much has changed in the last three to four years, every organization should have revisited their strategic plan after the pandemic hit.

Critical elements of a successful strategic planning process

Strategic planning is all about creating and maintaining alignment between all constituent groups — from management and the board to staff and residents — toward a common goal of sustainable growth. Alignment requires information, education, and visioning.

Alignment requires information, education, and visioning.

Inform: Environmental analysis

Unbiased data plays an important part in the strategic planning process by unraveling preconceptions and creating a shared understanding. Data will come from a variety of investigations into the “life cycle” (the productive value) of each of your products and services as well as the external factors affecting your organization:

  • Market studies — To assess market position, condition, and potential of existing and future products and services
  • Facility condition assessments — To quantify capital needs for existing site, plant, exteriors, and finishes over the next three, five, and 10 years
  • Financial modeling and debt capacity studies — To understand cash flow, resources, and opportunities for change (to existing sites and through growth opportunities)
  • Operational studies — To identify areas for tactical and innovative ways to reshape day-to-day operations in the form of revenue enhancements and expense reductions
  • Technology assessments — To find the options with the best ROI, that will enhance resident experience, and that will improve service delivery
  • Marketing and sales analysis — To map out improvements to the consumer journey, communicate your brand more clearly, and develop better marketing and sales strategies to convert leads
  • SWOT analysis — To identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that will help shape conversations around change

Although most of this data will come from your trusted business consultants who are conducting the analyses, be sure they solicit board, executive leadership, and key constituent feedback at every step.

Educate: Industry trends and priorities

Effective organizational leadership requires awareness of market trends. Trends in consumer preferences for certain products and services over others, housing and neighborhood design, operating models, and technology are further complicated by rising interest rates, labor shortages, increasing construction costs, and other economic factors.

These market forces are reshaping the industry, but do you know what priorities should be addressed during strategic planning? When we work with clients during the strategic planning process, we find ourselves addressing six main priorities in this post-pandemic environment:

  1. Market positioning and brand identity
  2. Financial performance
  3. Asset repositioning opportunities
  4. Strategic growth opportunities
  5. Leadership and governance
  6. Technology

Coming out of the first two steps in the strategic planning process, you’ll have a clear understanding of your community’s current position and what critical items are holding your organization back from recovery or growth.

Vision: Senior living business plan

The next step is to use the information gleaned from these analyses to identify your priorities and goals, make plans for addressing operational and leadership barriers, and compare repositioning and growth scenarios that will improve your market and financial position while aligning with your vision and mission. This becomes your business plan.

The keys to a successful senior living business plan are all about the mindset you take toward the process:

  • Take time to reflect on what you’ve learned
  • Create connections between ideas, plans, and people
  • Cultivate the ability and willingness to make choices
  • Create alignment on the purpose, mission, core values, and vision
  • Place as much emphasis on financial viability as mission fulfillment
  • Set attainable goals
  • Map out a timeline for reaching those goals
  • Plan for systems to track progress

Failure to plan realistically makes it too easy to lose focus and momentum, turning your strategic planning process into nothing more than wasted effort.

Planning is only effective if it leads to action. Setting attainable goals, mapping out a timeline, and tracking your progress toward these goals are often missed in the planning process but critical if you want to move the needle. As Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great: Be brutally honest about the organization’s ability to execute on these goals in the timeframe that is needed. Failure to plan realistically makes it too easy to lose focus and momentum, turning your strategic planning process into nothing more than wasted effort.

Getting started

All successful strategic plans begin with alignment, are shaped by data, and end with a business plan. Getting these steps out of order can cause doubt and confusion.

To summarize: The first and most critical step to success is alignment. Bring your executive leadership and board into alignment around purpose, mission, values, and vision. The next step is to understand where your organization is in its life cycle, both overall and by product and service. Use unbiased assessments of the market, operations, sites, financial health, and technology to create that shared understanding of the investments needed to reposition. And finally, set attainable goals, develop actional objectives, and map out a reasonable timeline for reaching those goals in a business plan.

Only through a thoughtful, holistic planning process can you be sure your business plan will pave the way for recovery and growth.

Need help focusing your planning on critical priorities in a process that is thoughtful, bold, and impactful? The same method we use when helping clients reposition and reimagine their communities can help you develop an actionable and effective plan for emerging a stronger and healthier organization. Contact our team for a consultation.

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